by Ha Nguyen & Van Son
|Art of living: Young artists in Co Do Village on the outskirts of Ha Noi are initially taught about the importance of images and emotion, long before they learn about painting techniques.
|Young at art: Young children attend a painting class. — VNS Photos
The tiny village of Co Do on the outskirts of Ha Noi is famous nationwide for having more than 30 painters of renown and a training ground for young artists.
Visiting the village in Ba Vi District is to enjoy a peaceful rural retreat, where access roads are surrounded by green paddy fields and blue skies dotted with the rusty cone hats of weather-beaten farm workers, the salt of the earth.
The village has ancient trees and clumps of bamboo which provide a background for legends and folklore that have absorbed local souls for generations.
Co Do's economy had not developed as fast as other villages but it would never be outdone in its passion for arts, painting and poetry, said painter Nguyen Van Nhat, an eldest grandson of artist Sy Tot, one of Viet Nam's renown painters.
"Most of our villagers know how to create poems," Nhat said. "Many of them have printed their own poetry collections. Our poetry club is a good place for cultural exchanges which help us develop our aspirations and nurture mutual affection and love."
Villagers had held on to traditional lifestyles by keeping their close relationships with each other and preserving the cultural spirit of previous generations.
"You can experience it in our peaceful but pure and noble village," Nhat said, where people don't build modern houses as they do in other communes but they dare to invest in a week of painting, passing comments and teaching their offspring about morals through pictures or poems."
Not only cultural behaviours had an influence. Nhat waxed lyrical about his village's natural beauty, such as the welcoming river, like a benevolent grandfather with soft sandy shoulder, and a dyke system, which stays green all year round, a soft silk scarf draped across the landscape, all contributing to a peaceful pastoral pallet that has inspired village painters for centuries.
It has give the village a trademark they are proud of: the village of painting, Nhat said, adding that painter Sy Tot has had contributed very much to this fame of village.
He told us that the late Sy Tot was the first person to show this painting passion. A member of the Viet Nam Fine Arts Association, his paintings have been hung at the Viet Nam Museum of Fine Arts and in some foreign countries.
His painting talents have been recognised by the State with many fine arts awards and a medal for the Cause of Viet Nam's Fine Arts.
Sy Tot was one of first students of the Viet Nam Fine Arts College while his younger brother Sy Tuan and his son La Vuong both were members, Nhat said.
Syü Tot painted many posters of President Ho Chi Minh, farmers, workers and soldiers, encouraging people during wars and reconstruction, Nhat said.
"His other paintings reflect the rustic simplicity of Co Do villagers."
A visit to the museum of Sy Tot and family which was built in 2006 to display 68 paintings of Tot is also recommended.
Elderly Nguyen Thi Hien shows visitors around the two-storied building.
"We are very proud of this building because we are the only agricultural village in Viet Nam with such a spacious and precious museum."
Hien said she especially liked Syü Tot's paintings of O Boá (Oh Father), Lua Non Buoi Som (Young Rice in the Morning) and Tieng Dan Bau (Monochord Music).
Local children who begin studying painting arrive at the museum to burn incense to Tot, the founder of art in the village.
Nhat said the museum received thousands of local and foreign visitors each year.
"This has encouraged us and our younger generation to work and study harder."
Thanks to Syü Tot's training, many painters have achieved fame. They include Tran Hoa, Giang Khich, Hoang Viet and Nguyen Ngoc Cui who have painting collections in their own homes.
Cui, who has many paintings of his village and people, said: "They are a valuable asset."
Cui started painting at age 12, coached by Sy Tot, who, he said, knew how to instill enthusiasm in him.
"My uncle told me that to become a painter, you must have passion for it. It is necessary to develop a painter's aptitude," Cui said.
Like Cui, painter Tran Hoa, a member of the Viet Nam Fine Arts Association, also has a home gallery.
Hoa is not rich in monetary terms, but he owns more than 100 paintings and has a wealth of love for the art. It is accepted that Hoa's paintings are better than many of the others because they have been displayed in foreign countries, like Austria and the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, Co Do has many artists who specialise in teaching the local youth and from areas around Dong Thai, including the likes of tutors Nguyen The Luan and Hoang Viet.
"I teach because the young are interested in painting and many have shown their talent," Luan said.
The teachers help keep the interest alive. Visiting the village, you can see the result: children, including the handicapped, are seen painting wherever you go, in open-air art classes and alone, near the riverbank, in the paddy fields.
Ba Vi District authorities plan to put Co Do on the tourist map, along with other sites in Ba Vi, so painters can sell their paintings and improve their living standards.
In the meantime, visitors can see the paintings on roadsides, in the village streets; filling empty spaces, like the walls of houses, and showing daily activities such as A Cat Licking Its Legs, A Mother Growing Rice, Houses with Red Tiles Hidden in Bamboo Clusters and Grandmother's Betel Trellis. — VNS